On Sunday the 28th of January, Italian Jannik Sinner beat Daniil Medvedev in the final of the 2024 Australian Open. The young Italian came from two sets down to win his first Grand Slam and has made the future of the sport look even brighter. Having beaten the great Novak Djokovic in the semi, and with relative ease too, Sinner cemented his position as one of the leaders of the new generation by staging a brilliant fightback against his Russian opponent.
With Carlos Alcaraz, Sinner and Holder Rune all no older than 22, plus the likes of Alex De Minaur, Stefanos Tsitipas and Casper Ruud, 25 or under, the future of the game seems to be in safe hands. Djokovic will be around for some time yet, whilst Rafa Nadal will still be a threat on clay, but the battle amongst the young guns, plus the likes of Medvedev (27), Andrey Rublev (26) and Alexander Zverev (26), promises to be captivating in the years ahead.
Sinner Suffers, The Stuns
For now though let us return to the remarkable achievements of Jannik Sinner. He is the first Italian, male or female, to win the Australian Open. Only four Italians had ever won a major before his victory, two men and two women, so he is almost instantly elevated to being one of Italy’s greatest-ever tennis players and there is surely so much more to come.
It was far from plain sailing for the Monaco-based player though and he lost the opening set 6-3 before going down by the same score in the next. At this point, the third-seeded Medvedev, who won the US Open in 2021 and was appearing in his sixth Grand Slam final, must have thought the pressure was too much for Sinner. The Italian, born this century, was in his first Slam final and, in fact, had never made it beyond the quarters before. Having beaten Djokovic in the semis, many assumed he was suffering from a hangover following that huge win.
However, whilst Sinner had to suffer for two sets, in the end the pain was all Medvedev’s. The Russian now holds the unwanted record of being the only player in history to have ever thrown away a two-set lead in a Slam final more than once. At the 2022 Australian Open, he led Nadal 6-2, 7-6 in the final before losing in five sets. He was stunned once again here and now boasts a record of three Melbourne finals, three defeats, and a Grand Slam final record of five losses and just one win.
None of this should take away from the fightback Sinner staged though. Whilst many inside the Rod Laver Arena may have assumed he was down and out, he had other ideas. Unable to handle Medvedev’s aggression in the opening two sets, he found a way to turn things around.
It is tempting to say that fatigue on Medvedev’s part might have been a factor, given that it had taken him over 20 hours of tennis to make the final. The Russian needed five sets to get past Zverev in the semis and five to beat Hubert Hurkacz in the quarters. He had just one straight-sets victory all tournament and even went to a deciding set in the second round. He had played much more tennis than Sinner, who had dropped just a single set up until the final.
However, the Russian showed no signs of fatigue at the start of the match, racing into a two-set lead. He was able to create chances against the Sinner serve, which had been rock solid during the tournament and few would have backed the Italian to find an extra gear – or three. In truth, it was a combination of the Italian settling into the game and his opponent tiring as the match went deep. And of course, tiredness can be both physical and mental; Medvedev was mentally fatigued both by his previous long matches and also the fear that must have gripped him that he might lose in Melbourne again, and once more after taking charge of the final initially.
As said, however, we do not think the Sinner fightback was solely, or even primarily, about Medvedev tiring and we must give the eventual champion great credit. As well as his obvious technical and physical skills, including his immense power and heavy top spin, plus excellent mobility, Sinner clearly has an excellent tennis brain. This has been most apparent in his record against Djokovic and he just figured out a way to change his game to combat Medvedev’s aggression. Moreover, another of the Italian’s big strengths is his ability to remain calm under pressure and that is exactly what he did despite being 2-0 down in the biggest game of his life.
Is Sinner the Best of the Youngsters?
Alcaraz has two Grand Slam titles to Sinner’s one and is considerably younger, being just 20. Sinner is an old hand at 22! For a fair while now, the assumption has been that it would be the Spaniard who would assume the mantle of being the next generational talent but might it actually be the older man who prves to be the greatest player of the post-Big Three era?
This was the first Australian Open final not to feature at least one of Nadal, Roger Federer or the Serbian world number one since 2005. That almost 20-year period of domination is over though and whilst Djokovic may add more Grand Slam titles to his haul, it seems unlikely that he will be world number one for much longer.
There now appears to be a four-way fight at the top of the world rankings, with a relatively small gap of around 1,500 ranking points separating Sinner in fourth from Djokovic in first. Alcaraz is second, with Medvedev third, but we could well see a very different picture come the end of the year.
Both Sinner and Alcaraz are rare talents and it will be fascinating and very exciting to see how the battle between them, plus the other younger players, and indeed Djokovic, plays out in the years to come.